Atlantis: The Discovery, review: Dan Snow debunks the myths and shows why he’s such a history hit

Dan Snow is a historian who bubbles over with genuine excitement
Dan Snow is a historian who bubbles over with genuine excitement - Channel 5
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Remember the headlines: British Historian Discovers Atlantis? The immediate problem with Atlantis: The Discovery with Dan Snow (Channel 5) is the hard evidence about the legendary kingdom some believe lies buried beneath the waves: if there was any, we’d know about it.

To his credit, Snow didn’t prolong the hokum any longer than necessary: it took just 10 minutes for classicist Jasmine Elmer to debunk the idea that Plato’s parable of human hubris and divine retribution might have actually happened. “A story with little reality sprinkles on top,” she surmised.

In place of any ersatz tension came a more revealing hunt for the inspiration behind Plato’s story, written around 360BC. It became a history of Greek civilisation by stealth, from the thriving maritime culture of Akrotiri to Helike, submerged by a tsunami and whose destruction accounted for the Spartan admiral who had once tried to sell the philosopher into slavery. It was underpinned by admiration for the pioneers who, through intuition and expertise, made some of the Mediterranean’s most significant archaeological discoveries.

Snow, to his obvious delight, even met one of them. Dora Katsonopoulou was sporting a yellow blazer that even Michael Portillo might have deemed outré, but it was her perseverance and marriage of cutting-edge techniques with a close reading of an ancient travelogue that enabled the discovery of Helike: it transpired that the once thriving metropolis had sunk into an inland lagoon rather than the sea.

Atlantis was also bolstered not by the CGI which remains the first resort of the lazier modern-history documentary, but by lavishly filmed walls, pottery, murals and so on. While presumably unappreciated at the time, a plus point to the tsunamis and eruptions which plagued the region was the way in which saltwater or volcanic ash preserved these features.

And anchoring the whole thing was a man who, through his bubbling excitement and expansive gestures, is coming ever more to resemble his father. Greek ruins are his election night, and everyone’s a winner.

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